Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Mobility and Danger in India

I've written before about the growing market for scooters in India, particularly with young middle-class women. In the past, I've posted Indian ads showing bright, carefree young women on pastel-coloured scooters riding freely through city streets with nothing but admiring looks from young men. And manufacturers have continued to compete for that market with sleek designs, lots of storage under the seats and colours like "candy-blazing red," "dream orange" and "plush pink," all in the name of "female empowerment."

And there's this advice to those marketing scooters to women in a business paper:

Two-wheelers of this kind actually empower women: they can be the riders with power to decide where to go, when to go and whom to go with. I do believe this is a great psychographic opportunity. It is just about being used.
The scooter is a symbol of mobility, power in the hand of a woman. Now, women do not need to depend on anyone to take care of their mobility needs.
In addition to this, I do believe that most scooters thus far, have been either male or neutered in their gender. The scooter that has a neuter gender is not good for men, neither is it good for a woman. Women in particular have been forced to pick such scooters. There is therefore a definite need for manufacturers and marketers to design and position the scooter as a device that is essentially feminine. This can be a huge USP. While physically, many are looking progressively very close to men in terms of attitude, dressing pattern, language and behaviour, at the same time, women are progressively wanting the soft cues of femininity in everything. In everything they eat, drink, drive and ride equally. 
But all those wonderful colours, all those ads and all that talk of empowerment seem at odds with the reality for women on the streets of India where gang rapes and other violence happen all too often. Scooters are sometimes seen as a safer option for women than public transportation but that hasn't been a major part of the pitch.

Now, one product acknowledges the contradiction of the joy of mobility and the dangers for women of getting around. A joint Japanese-Indian venture has introduced Nirbhaya, a low-speed electric scooter that will be sold at a small discount to women. Safety is the message: the scooter is equipped with a GPS; a woman can press an SOS button on it that immediately lets family members know where she is. There's nothing subtle about the vehicle's name: Nirbhaya, meaning fearless, was the name given to the victim of the gang rape in Delhi in 2012 to protect her identity. It's also the name of a fund set up by the government for the safety of girls and women.

Photo from IndiaToday,in

It's marketing, of course, but hopefully marketing that shows India is taking the safe mobility of women seriously.